Life and Works
"Thou wast one of the noblest and purest men that ever trod this earth.
"And although this is known to both friend and foe, I do not deem it superfluous to utter this testimony aloud at thy tomb. For we know the world; we know the fate of Spinoza! Around Nietzsche's memory, too, posterity may cast shadows! And therefore I close with the words: Peace to thy ashes!" 1
This view, expressed by Peter Gast, Nietzsche's staunchest friend and disciple, at his master's graveside, in August 1900, may be regarded
1 Das Leben Friedrich Nietzsche's by Frau Förster-Nietzsche.
At the present day Nietzsche is so potent a force and his influence is increasing with such rapidity that, whatever our calling in life may be, it behoves us to know precisely what he stands for, and to which of the opinions above given we should subscribe. As a matter of fact, the inquirer into the life and works of this interesting man will find that he has well-nigh as many by-names as he has readers, and not the least of our difficulties in speaking about him will be to give him a fitting title, descriptive of his mission and the way in which he understood it.
Some deny his right to the title "philosopher"; others declare him to be a mere anarchist; and a large number regard all his later works as no more than a shallow though brilliant reversal of every accepted doctrine on earth.
In order to be able to provoke so much diversity of opinion, a man must be not only versatile but forcible. Nietzsche was both. There is scarcely
Throughout his life and all his many recantations and revulsions of feeling, he remained faithful to one purpose and to one aim the elevation of the type man. However bewildered we may become beneath the hail of his epigrams, treating of every momentous question that has ever agitated the human mind, we still can trace this broad principle running through all his works: his desire to elevate man and to make him more worthy of humanity's great past.
Even in his attack on English psychologists, naturalists, and philosophers, in The Genealogy of Morals, what are his charges against them? He says they debase man, voluntarily or involuntarily,
Again, in his attack on the evolutionists' so-called "struggle for existence," of which I shall speak more exhaustively later, it is the suggestion that life mere existence in itself is worthy of being an aim at all, that he deprecates so profoundly. And, once more, it is with the view of elevating man and his aspirations that he levels the attack.
Whatever we may think of his methods, therefore, at least his aim was sufficiently lofty and honourable, and we must bear in mind that he never shirked the duties which, rightly or wrongly, he imagined would help him to achieve it.
What was Nietzsche? If we accept his own definition of the philosopher's task on earth, we must place him in the front rank of philosophers. For, according to him, the creation of new values, new principles, new standards, is the philosopher's
Be that as it may, it is safe to maintain that he was a poet of no mean order; not a mere versifier or rhapsodist, but a poet in the old Greek sense of the word, i.e. a maker, in our time such men are so rare that we are apt to question whether they exist at all, for poetasters have destroyed our faith in them. Goethe was perhaps the last example of the type in modern Europe, and although we may recall the scientific achievements of men like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, we are not sufficiently ready to associate their divining and intuitive power in the department of science with their purely artistic and poetic achievements, despite the fact that the two are really inseparable.
Knowing the high authority with which poets of this order are wont to sneak, it might be supposed that we should approach Nietzsche's innovations in the realm of science with some respect, not in spite of, but precisely owing to, his great poetic genius. Unfortunately to-day
When we consider that Nietzsche was ultimately to prove the bitterest enemy of Christianity, and the severest critic of the ecclesiastic, his antecedents seem, to say the least, remarkable. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche, born in 1813, was a clergyman of the German Protestant Church; his grandfather had also taken orders; whilst his grandmother on his father's side was descended from a long line of parsons. Nor do things change very much when we turn to his mother's family; for his maternal grandfather, Oehler, was also a clergyman, and, according to Nietzsche's sister, he appears to have been a very sound, though broad, theologian.
Yet, perhaps, it is we who are wrong in seeing anything strange in the fact that a man with such orthodox antecedents should have developed into a prophet and reformer of Nietzsche's stamp; for we should remember that only a long tradition of discipline and strict conventionality, lasting over a number of generations, is able to rear that
Friedrich Nietzsche was born at Röcken near Lützen, in the Prussian province of Saxony, on the 15th of October 1844. From his earliest childhood onwards the boy seems to have been robust and active and does not appear to have suffered from any of the ordinary ailments of infancy. In the biography written by his sister much stress is laid upon this fact, while the sometimes exceptional health enjoyed by his parents and ancestors is duly emphasised by the anxious biographer. Elisabeth Nietzsche (born in July 1846), the biographer in question, is perfectly justified in establishing these facts with care; for we know that our poet philosopher died insane, and many have sought to show that his insanity was hereditary and could be traced throughout his works.
Nietzsche's father died in 1849, and in the following year the family removed to Naumburg. There the boy received his early schooling, first at a preparatory school and subsequently at the Gymnasium the Grammar School of the town. As a lad, it is said that he was fond of
Music, we know, played anything but a minor rôle in his later life, as his three important essays, Richard Wagner in Bayreuth, The Case of Wagner, and Nietzsche contra Wagner, are with us to prove. I fear, however, that it will be impossible to go very deeply into this question here, save at the cost of other still more important matters which have a prior claim to our attention. Let it then suffice to say that, as a
Nietzsche's six years at Pforta were responsible for a large number of his subsequent ideas. When we hear him laying particular stress upon the value of rigorous training free from all sentimentality; when we read his views concerning austerity and the importance of law, order and discipline, we must bear in mind that he is speaking with an actual knowledge of these things, and with profound experience of their worth. The excellence of his philological work may also be ascribed to the very sound training he received at Pforta, and the Latin essay which he wrote on an original subject (Theognis, the
Nietzsche left Pforta in September 1864 and entered the University of Bonn, where he studied philology and theology. The latter he abandoned six months later, however, and in the autumn of 1865 he left Bonn for Leipzig, whither his famous teacher Ritschl had preceded him. Between 1865 and 1867 his work at Leipzig proved of the utmost importance to his career. Hellenism, Schopenhauer and Wagner now entered into his life and became paramount influences with him, and each in its way determined what his ultimate mission was to be. Hellenism drew him ever more strongly to philology and to the problem of culture in general; Schopenhauer directed him to philosophy, and Wagner taught him his first steps in a subject which was to be the actual Leit-motif of his teaching I refer to the question of Art.
His work during these two years, arduous though it was, in no way affected his health, and, despite his short-sight, he tells us that he was then able to endure the greatest strain without the smallest trouble. Being of a robust and energetic nature, however, he was anxious to dis-
In the autumn of 1867 he entered the fourth regiment of Field Artillery, and it is said that he performed his duties to the complete satisfaction of his superiors. But, alas, this lasted but a short time; for, as the result of an unfortunate fall from a restive horse, he was compelled to leave the colours before he had completed his term of service.
In October 1868, after a serious illness, the student returned to his work at Leipzig, and now that event took place which was perhaps the most triumphant and most decisive in his career. It was Nietzsche's ambition to get His doctor's degree as soon as possible and then to travel. Meanwhile, however, others were busy determining what he should do. Some philological essays which he had written in his student days, and which, owing to their excellence, had been published by the "Rheinisches Museum," had attracted the attention of the educational Board of Bâle. One of the Board communicated with Ritschl concerning Nietzsche, and the reply the learned scholar sent was so favourable that the
His first years at Bâle are chiefly associated in our minds with his inaugural address: "Homer and Classical Philology," with his action in regard to the Franco-German war, and with his lectures on the "Future of our Educational Institutions." I can do no more than refer to these here, but as regards the war it is necessary to go into further detail.
In July 1870, hostilities opened between France and Prussia. Now, although Nietzsche had been forced to become a naturalised Swiss subject in order to accept his appointment at Bâle, he was loth to remain inactive while his own countrymen fought for the honour of Germany. He could not, however, fight for the Germans without compromising Switzerland's neutrality. He therefore went as a hospital attendant, and in this capacity, after obtaining the necessary leave, he followed his former compatriots to the war. According to Elisabeth Nietzsche, it was this act
In January 1872 Nietzsche published his first book, The Birth of Tragedy. It is really but a portion of a much larger work on Hellenism which he had always had in view from his earliest student days, and it may be said to have been prepared in two preliminary lectures delivered at Bâle, under the title of the "Greek Musical Drama," and "Socrates and Tragedy." The work was received with enthusiasm by Wagnerians; but among Nietzsche's philological friends it succeeded in rousing little more than doubt and suspicion. It was a sign that the young professor was beginning to ascribe too much importance to Art in its influence upon the world, and this the dry men of science could not tolerate.
Between 1873 and 1876, Nietzsche, while still
The second, The Use and Abuse of History, was a protest against excessive indulgence in the "historical sense," or the love of looking backwards, which threatened to paralyse the intelligence of Germany in those days. In it Nietzsche tries to show how history is for the few and not for the many, and points out how rare are those who have the strength to endure the lesson of experience.
In the third, Schopenhauer as Educator, Nietzsche pits his great teacher against all other dry-as-dust philosophers who make for stagnation in philosophy.
The only one of the four Thoughts out of Season which created much comment was the first, concerning David Strauss, and this gave rise to a loud outcry against the daring young philologist.
Nietzsche had been very unwell throughout this period. Dyspepsia and headaches, brought on partly by overwork, racked him incessantly, and, in addition, he was getting ever nearer and nearer to a final and irrevocable breach with the greatest friend of his life Richard Wagner. After obtaining leave from the authorities he went to Sorrento, where, in the autumn of 1876, he began work on his next important book, Human, All-too-human, the book which was to part him for ever from Wagner. In February 1878 the first volume was ready for the printer, and was published almost simultaneously with Wagner's Parsifal, which work, as is well known, was the death-blow to Nietzsche's faith in his former idol.
In Human, All-too-human, Nietzsche as a
In 1879, owing to ill-health, Nietzsche was compelled to resign his professorship at the University of Bâle, and the spring of that year saw him an independent man with an annual pension of 3000 francs, generously granted to him by the Board of Management on the acceptance of his resignation. With this pension and a small private income derived from a capital of about £1400, he was not destitute, though by no means affluent, and when we remember that he was obliged to defray the expenses of publication in the case of almost every one of his books, we may form some idea of his actual resources.
From this time forward Nietzsche's life was spent in travelling and writing. Venice, Marien-
In the Dawn of Day Nietzsche for the first time begins to reveal his real personality. This book is literally the dawn of his great life work, and in it we find him grappling with all the problems which he was subsequently to tackle with such a masterly and courageous hand. It appeared in July 1881 and met with but a poor reception. Indeed, after the publication of the last of the Thoughts out of Season Nietzsche appears to have created very little stir among his countrymen a fact which, though it greatly depressed him, only made him redouble his energies.
In September 1882 The Joyful Wisdom was published a book written during one of the happiest periods of his life. It is a veritable fanfare of trumpets announcing the triumphal entry of its distinguished follower Zarathustra. With it Nietzsche's final philosophical views are
Disappointed by the meagre success of his works, and hurt by the attitude of various friends, Nietzsche now retired into loneliness, and, settling down on the beautiful bay of Rapallo, began work on that wonderful moral, psychological, and critical rhapsody, Thus Spake Zarathustra, which was to prove the greatest of his creations. During the years 188384, the three first parts of this work were published, and, though each part was issued separately and met with the same cold reception which had been given to his other works of recent years, Nietzsche never once lost heart or wavered in his resolve. It required, however, all the sublime inspirations which we find expressed in that wonderful Book for all and None, to enable a man to stand firmly and absolutely alone amid all the hardships and reverses that beset our anchorite poet throughout this period.
It was about this time that Nietzsche began to take chloral in the hope of overcoming his insomnia; it was now, too, that his sister the only relative for whom, despite some misunder-
In the course of this exposition I shall have to treat of the doctrines enunciated in Thus Spake Zarathustra indeed, seeing that this work contains all Nietzsche's thought in a poetical form, it would be quite impossible to discuss any single tenet of his philosophy without in some way referring to the book in question. I cannot therefore say much about it at present, save that it is generally admitted to be Nietzsche's opus magnum. Besides the philosophical views expounded in the four parts of which it consists, the value of its autobiographical passages is enormous. In it we find the history of his most intimate experiences, friendships, feuds, disappointments, triumphs, and the like; and the whole is written in a style so magnetic and poetical, that, as a specimen of belles-lettres alone, entirely apart from the questions it treats, the work cannot and ought not to be overlooked.
Although there is now scarcely a European
What remains to be related of Nietzsche's life is
As the result of over-work, excessive indulgence in drugs, and a host of disappointments and anxieties, Nietzsche's great mind at last collapsed on the 2nd or 3rd of January 1889, never again to recover.
From that time to the day of his death (25th August 1900) he lingered a helpless and unconscious invalid, first in the care of his aged mother, and ultimately, when Elizabeth returned a widow from Paraguay, as his sister's beloved charge.
For an opinion of Nietzsche during his last phase I cannot do better than quote Professor Henri Lichtenberger of Nancy, who saw the invalid in 1898; and with this sympathetic Frenchman's valuable observations, I shall draw this chapter to a close:
"In the gradual wane of this enthusiastic lover of life, of this apologist of energy, of this prophet of Superman there is something inexpressibly sad inexpressibly beautiful and peaceful. His brow is still magnificent his eyes, the light of which seems to be directed inwards, have an expression